I’ve recently spent some time in the Syracuse University Archives researching old comic strips. It turns out they have an incredible collection of original artwork by top tier comic artists – everyone from Hal Foster to Frank Robbins. It’s quite a thrill and every time I view these originals I feel like a kid who’s successfully raided the cookie jar – and got away with it.
That’s how the new Monster Island book made me feel. You might remember Graham Nolan’s independent comic from about 20 years ago. It was a kick to follow along as two military folks fight their way across an island full of monsters. And it’s not Frankenstein or the Wolfman – these are monsters in the classic Kirby-Atlas Comics or Godzilla-TOHO studios mold. Big and scary and nutty and goofy and fun. My kinda monsters.
You’ve seen this format before. Scott Dunbier and IDW have essentially created the category we all call Artist’s Editions. These books are shot from the original pages complete with production notes, blemishes, corrections and handwritten scrawls. Reading one of these is the closest most of us will ever come to holding the original art in our hands for one sitting.
Graham Nolan is a strong artist, and he’s also a strong storyteller. He’s got a vibrant visual sense (I’ve been a fan since the old Hawkword series) and here, as the writer, he’s able to introduce big concepts and keep the story moving, all the while helping readers get to know the cute couple at the center of the story.
This volume is even more fun as it includes extras. Some as you’d expect, like the character sketches, are wonderful and whimsical. Of note are the comic strip versions of Monster Island. Years ago, Graham Nolan had repackaged the strip to sell to a newspaper syndication. His efforts never went anywhere (it’s a shame, as this thriller lends itself to this format), but it did lead to him getting the gig penciling the Phantom for several years.
The story is fun, but beyond that, I find Nolan’s efforts inspirational. He comes across as the kind of guy who has a vision and puts in the hours to see if he can make it a reality.
Kudos to him -and I am sure he has inspired up and coming creatives over the years.
I believe the first comics convention I attended was in 1967. That means I’ve been chasing these puppies for 50 years. Indeed, it often feels my entire life has been one long, never-ending comicon. Talk about getting a life – or, at least, another act.
I continue to do ‘em because I enjoy seeing my friends a hell of a lot more than I enjoy eating vulcanized chicken fingers. Better still, I enjoy meeting the fans, talking about what they like and don’t like (this is not a good time to defend the event comic), discovering new trends and talent, and blathering on and on at panels. For the past, oh, maybe two dozen years that means I’ve vastly preferred the smaller comicons; it’s hard to have meaningful conversations at the overcrowded, underoxygenated megashows such as San Diego and New York. To tell you the truth, I avoid those clusterfucks like the plague because I’m certain someday soon some clown is going to pivot and knock me over with his backpack, and I’m going to have to shoot somebody once again.
So when fellow ComicMixer Ed Catto invited me to the Syracuse show, held last week, I gleefully agreed. It’s only a four-hour drive according to GPS, or five-and-one-half hours according to the weekend reality of Northeast Quadrant motoring. Yes, driving back I encountered no less than three serious accidents and one abandoned SUV that blocked two lanes on the infamous Tappen Zee Bridge. Rule of thumb: during a long drive, when the number of accidents exceeds the number of dead deer, just pull over and cry.
The show was great fun. I was reunited with Graham Nolan, an old friend that I haven’t seen in a million years. We worked on Hawkworld back in the day; his current Bane miniseries is a serious contribution of DC’s present circulation dominance over Marvel Comics. Joe Rubenstein, who has no home and merely travels to different comicons each and every week, had a cold and was hell-bent on turning it into a plague.
I have long enjoyed Chris Giarrusso’s work (G-Man, Mini Marvels, Tales from the Con) and was happy to see he had the table to my immediate right. To my left was Frank Cammuso, writer/artist of such books as Knights of the Lunch Table, Salem Hyde, and one of my all-time favorites, Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective. Frank had collaborated with my old pal Jay Lynch on several books; as I’ve noted Jayze and Iwent back to the hallowed days of the Chicago Mirror, which evolved into Bijou Comix. It’s great to make new friends.
Of course, the show was full of innovative cosplayers – to no one’s surprise, virtually every female toddler was adorably swathed in Wonder Woman gear, making Syracuse the cutest place on Earth last weekend. The show was at the city’s convention center, specifically in their hockey arena, home to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, the first hockey team to be named after a candy bar.
08As is often the case at these “smaller” shows, the fans were wonderful, eager to converse and remarkably polite… “remarkable,” at least, to this New Yorker. Graham and I did a panel about how comics evolved in the 1980s and 90s that was hosted by Ed, and the questions were the sort I enjoy the most: those that initiate conversation among the fans and the panel members.
I’m always curious to see which books are presented to me for autographing (unlike fellow convention attendee Neal Adams, I do not charge for my autographs because, well, the Sharpie I borrowed from Chris would have dried out). This year, it seems almost half were issues of The Question, which I found to be both surprising and really cool. Them folks in Syracuse have taste.
I deeply appreciate Ed’s inviting me and that, at long last, I got the chance to meet and hang out with Kathe Catto, a person as intelligent and as charming as her name is alliterative. I also want to thank convention honcho Thomas Yeldon and the wonderful, helpful and professional staff for a show that was so much fun I forgot that I’ve been doing this since Lyndon Johnson was president.
(With apologies to Jerome J. Garcia, Robert Hall Weir, Philip Lesh, and Robert C. Hunter for the title, and to my ol’ co-conspirator Ed Sanders who purportedly coined the word “clusterfuck.” Remember that when you take your American History class final next year.)
It was a lifetime ago. It was just moments gone by.
Tuesday will mark twenty years since my wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, died.
I’ve been working on a column discussing the passage for some days but haven’t been satisfied with it. Sometimes you try to say something and can’t find the right things to say. I’ve come across an old column I wrote ten years ago. Just about everything I wanted to say I said back then so, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just reprint it here.
Today is Thanksgiving and a hearty Happy Thanksgiving to you all. As it turns out, it’s also the birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, who would have been 54 today. This is a day for stopping and giving thanks for the good things in your life and so I’ll ask your indulgence while I remember one of the best things in mine, which was Kim.
For those who don’t know her, never met her, how do I describe her to you? My god, where do I begin? Physically – heart shaped face, megawatt smile, big blue eyes. Champagne blonde hair which, in her later years, she decided should be red. That decision was pure Kimmie. She looked good, too, but she also looked good bald. More on that in a few moments.
She was buxom and damn proud of it. Referred to her breasts as “the girls” and was fond of showing them off. She was about 5’8” so that when she was in heels we were about the same height. Basically had an hourglass figure although sometimes there were a few more seconds packed into that hourglass than maybe there should have been. We both fought weight problems and I still do.
All that, however, is merely a physical description. Photographs could tell you as much and more and still tell you so little about Kim. Not who she was. Kim was an extrovert to the point of being an exhibitionist. She was sometimes flamboyant; I have described her as the world’s most innocent narcissist. She loved the spotlight but with the delight of a child. Yet, she also loved nothing better than to be in the corner of a tea shoppe or coffee house, drinking her cuppa, writing in her journal, totally absorbed into herself and the moment.
She also genuinely loved people. Loved being around them, hearing their stories, telling her own. She had one of the world’s great infectious laughs. If you were in a comedy on stage, you wanted Kim in your audience. She got the jokes, too, including some the rest of the audience missed.
She loved music, all kinds of music, and could talk knowledgeably about it for hours. Hell, Kim could hold forth on almost anything for hours. She loved classical, the blues, rock and roll, soundtracks to movies – everything. She loved movies, she loved books, she loved TV. She adored Doctor Who; we, in fact, met at a Doctor Who Convention.
She loved comics and she loved the idea of women in comics. At many different Cons, she would chair the Women in Comics panel and, in Chicago especially where she did it for several years, people learned to come because it would often be one of the most interesting, thought-provoking panels at the Con. She was part of the early organizational meetings that resulted in Friends of Lulu and their annual award for the best new female comics creator is named for Kim. She would have been very proud of that.
How do I describe our relationship – what we gave to each other? One example – she brought cats into my life, I brought dogs back into hers. She made me more of a cat person; I brought out the dog lover in her.
Other things she brought to me – her love of Westerns and of the Civil War. I had dismissed Westerns as “oaters” and “horse opera” but Kim patiently took me through the best ones, showed me the difference from a John Ford western and a Budd Boetticher one. Without Kim, there never would have been The Kents or my Marvel westerns, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies.
On our honeymoon, Kim wanted to go to Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we could walk some of the Civil War battlefields in the area. I was a little dubious at first but went along because it was important to her. My god, I learned so much walking those battlefields. I don’t know if you can understand those battles or the War without doing that. We would later add others like Shiloh and Gettysburg to the list. Amazing, bonding, illuminating moments.
Kim and I worked together as co-writers on several projects, notably Suicide Squad, some Munden’s Bar stories, and a tale of Young John Gaunt that ran in the back of GrimJack during its final year at First Comics. I think Kim was a finer writer than I am. I’m at heart a storyteller and I’m mostly about what happens next; I turn a good phrase and I know plot, character, theme and so on but Kim was also into the composition and the polish on the story. She would go over and over things while I’d push on. I wish she had written more on her own; at the end of her life, so did she.
Kim also introduced me to the fabled “Bucket of Suds,” a wonderful bar in Chicago that was the nearest earthly equivalent I know to Munden’s Bar and to which we, in turn, introduced many folks from the comic book community, especially during the Chicago Comiccon. The owner, Joe Danno, was a mixologist and could invent a new drink on the spot in addition to creating his own cordials. The Bucket not only served drinks but, for many years, served home made pizza, burgers, breadsticks.
Joe also created his own catsup, mustard, bar-b-que sauce, and hot sauce. Want to see our esteemed editor, Mike Gold, both drool and cry at the same time? Get him talking about the hot sauce and the bar-b-que sauce, neither of which is available any more. (Oh, the humanity!) I set a scene in an issue of Hawkworld at the Bucket and got photo reference for our penciler, Graham Nolan, which he used wonderfully well. I later obtained the pages and gave them to Joe who proudly had them framed up over the bar.
Joe got older and the bar’s opening hours became more erratic. Kim by that point, was also sick with the breast cancer that would kill her. Joe finally announced that the Bar was closing and said there would be a party the closing night. Kim desperately wanted to be there – it was right around her birthday, as I recall – but she was too sick by that point to make the trip. The bar closed and Kim herself died the following March.
Kimberly wore her heart on her sleeve, both politically and personally, and it was an open and generous heart. She identified so much with underdogs. She was a PK – a Preacher’s Kid – and her father was an Episcopal chaplain in the Navy as well, so she was also a “Navy Brat.” She would move every few years to another base somewhere else in the country. Sometimes it would be a great place and sometimes it was one where she was treated horribly but one thing she learned was not to form really close friends because, in a few years, she or they would move on to another base and would be gone.
Yet despite all that, her heart was not bitter or closed. She loved meeting people and she did make friends even though her heart did get hurt time and again. What people thought of her mattered to her and sometimes that could hurt. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, while everyone had a right to their own opinion, not everyone’s opinion mattered. Some people were just assholes. Some were nasty assholes. Some had agendas. Some were misinformed. Kim understood all that or at least her head did but it hurt nevertheless. It’s hard when you lead with your heart.
Kim died of breast cancer more than ten years ago. I won’t go through all the particulars of that time, other than to note that it was mercifully swift and that she fought with her customary determination, élan and brio which she documented in a brave series of columns that she wrote for the Comic Buyers Guide.
There are a few grace notes to tell in the space we have. As a result of her bouts with chemo, Kim’s hair did fall out so eventually she shaved her head. She considered using a wig but eventually opted for temporary tattoos at her temples. I remember the butterflies.
In her final weeks, she let go of more and more things that simply no longer mattered. She let go of old angers, she forgave, she reconciled. As her body failed, ultimately her spirit became more clear. I’ll not say she went quietly into that good night; she was very clear about wanting to die in her own home and when circumstances forced us to bring her back to the hospital for pain management, she rebelled. Drugged up, she still tried to take the tubes out of her arms. She wanted to go home and, finally, we brought her home.
Yet, all of these are also simply random facts about Kim and cannot capture her. There is only one way that I know to do that – through story. We had three memorial services for Kim after she died – one at our church, one in New York for those who knew her from the comics industry, one back in Chicago for family and friends there. Stories were told at all three and, for me, they were the centerpieces of the memorials. Mary and I still tell them, recalling Kim’s foibles as well as her virtues for, as I have said before, I prefer Kim’s foibles to many other people’s virtues. They make her human. They make her alive.
I think that’s important for anyone who has lost someone who was loved. Don’t just remember – tell the stories. So that’s what I’d like to do with the comments sections this week, if you have time – tell stories about the lives of people we are thankful we have known, those who are no longer here. If you have a Kim story to tell, that would be great – I’d love to read it. If it’s about someone else, that’s okay, too – Kim would have loved to hear it.
That’s who Kim was – a person of story.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A few additional thoughts.
Kim was a geek back when it was not cool to be a geek and the triumph of geek culture would have floored her. The Star Wars prequels and now the new sequels and stand alone stories; the whole Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies; the return of Doctor Who and the dawn of the superhero movie. She would have been in NYC with me for the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie; Kim would have seen the three-story tall Squad ad in Times Square, screamed and swooned and then laughed with utter delight. I can hear it in my mind’s ear.
She’s missed a lot. She is missed a lot.
I have a new life and a partner that I love and treasure – Mary Mitchell. Twenty years is a lifetime; twenty years was just a moment ago. Kim is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and that’s as it should be.
I can’t agree with fans that hate big crowds at big comic conventions. I tend to like big crowds. And I am always astonished by the way the San Diego Comic-Con takes over that town. I’m also in awe that the New York Comic Con is the biggest convention held in New York City’s Javits Center. The massive attendees at every big comic-con are both testaments to Geek Culture, and virtual victory laps for all fans everywhere.
To be honest, I also enjoy smaller comic conventions. There’s something special about being able to just wander up to a favorite creator and engage in a conversation with him or her. And at smaller shows, it’s empowering to be able to casually flip through a long box of comics to search for treasures, without elbowing your way through a crushing wall of other fans searching for their own treasures.
I’ll never forget a great experience I had at a smaller show years ago. A local comic con decided to expand with a second show. They decided to hold this spinoff convention in in the open area of a mall. Attendance was abysmal, but that worked out in my favor. Jim Shooter, the headlining professional, very patiently answered all my young fanboy questions for hours and hours. There was no one else waiting to speak to him, after all. I don’t think I talked for 24 hours straight, but I’m sure it seemed that way to Jim. And you know what? That was a kindness I’ve never forgotten.
So it’s no surprise that I’m very excited for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con in June. I’ve recently moved from metro New York to the Finger Lakes, and we’re finding so many cool things going on up here. This convention looks to be a very substantial comic-con with a small show feel.
One of my favorite artists, Graham Nolan, will be a guest at this year’s show. Part of why I like his art so much is that he’s been involved with so many of my favorite stories. I fondly recall the introduction of Bane, the first villain to soundly defeat Batman. And the adventure of two immigrants from Thanagar assimilating to American culture in the Hawkworld series was fascinating and fresh.
But the other part of why I enjoy his work is that Nolan’s always been able to deliver solid artwork with a flair for the dramatic. It’s grounded, but it’s fantastic. Every Graham Nolan page is an example of fine draftsmanship, but also always infused with a thrilling level of action and adventure.
So, unable to wait until the convention in June, I wanted to have a one of those
substantial convention conversations with this fine artist. I reached out to Graham Nolan for this pre-con conversation:
Ed Catto: You were an early graduate of the Joe Kubert School. What are your fondest memories of that experience?
Graham Nolan: Actually, I never graduated from Kubert’s. I ran out of money for the third year. The two years I did attend were a great experience though. I learned a lot and was surrounded by people that shared the same passions as I did.
EC: We tend to revere Joe Kubert around here – what was it like learning from him?
GN: Joe was a force of nature. He had a presence that few have. When he spoke, you listened. He made everything he did seem so damn easy.
EC: You worked on Power Of The Atom, an Atom reboot, with CNY-er Roger Stern. Those were exciting times and it seemed to shine through in that series. What stands out in your memory about that series?
GN: It was a fun series that I wish I had been on from issue #1
EC: Our regular readers know how enamored I am with your Hawkworld series. Can you tell us a little about that series, what you were looking to achieve with it, and what your thoughts on it today are?
GN: That was a tough act to follow. I was passed the reigns from the popular mini-series by Tim Truman and Alcatena. I wanted to capture the feel of that series but add my own sense of storytelling dynamism to it.
EC: Follow-up question – Any thoughts on following in the footsteps of Joe Kubert on Hawkman?
GN: Not really. Hawkworld was so far afield from Joe’s work I felt like I was following Truman and not Kubert.
EC: You spent so much time working The Phantom – with fantastic results. Was that a labor of love for you?
GN: I always loved The Phantom. When Don Newton did the art for the Charlton books, I really flipped over the character. The Phantom was my Mom’s favorite character growing up. I regret that she passed before getting to see me take over the character.
EC: Comic strips like Rex Morgan, M.D. don’t seem to get the same fan appreciation at comic conventions. Do you find that frustrating?
GN: Comic strips don’t seem to get fan appreciation anywhere! The newspaper is a dying delivery device for comic-strips. They are so small these days that there are some strips I can’t even read!
EC: Monster Island was your own property. How different is it work on something like that as opposed to big company characters?
GN: Everything has to be created from scratch vs. it being established by others. But the creative freedom is wonderful.
EC: Let’s look ahead – can you tell us what you’re working on now?
GN: I’m currently doing my weekly humor strip, Sunshine State for GoComics.com and Chuck Dixon and I are back at DC working on a 12 issue Bane project called Bane: Conquest.
EC: Sounds like fun stuff, Graham, really looking forward to it all.
This was Thursday night last week, at a rally in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle outside of a Trump hotel. I went, as I often do, to put my body on the line for something in which I believe. In this case, I wanted to stand with my fellow New Yorkers to express my horror about the Inauguration taking place the next day.
I stood there for about an hour. A woman sang, beautifully. Rosie Perez welcomed us. Alec Baldwin did his Trump impression. Steve Buscemi talked. New York City mayor Bill deBlasio spoke, followed by the mayor of Minneapolis. Michael Moore was very funny, but at this point, my back started to hurt, and I decided that I had been seen enough to make my statement.
Andy Warhol famously said that, in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. He did not explain why we should care.
I bring this up because so many people get upset or excited about celebrities expressing their political opinions. Some pundits speculate that one of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election was that people were sick of her celebrity endorsers (including Katie Perry, Beyonce, Meryl Streep and Bruce Springsteen) campaigning for her.
We saw another flare-up of celebrity opinions, and the resulting backlash, this past week, at the Inauguration and the Women’s March. None of the so-called “A List” stars would perform for the Inauguration, which reportedly angered Trump and his followers. At the same time, a lot of celebrities spoke at the Women’s March, or simply marched with their friends, and without an entourage. Melissa Benoit (Supergirl), Peter Capaldi (the Doctor), Whoopi Goldberg (Star Trek, among many others), Ian McKellan (Magneto, with a Patrick Stewart sign), Gillian Anderson (X-Files) were among those at marches around the world, and I’m sure I’m leaving out bunches. There was even a march at the Sundance Film Festival, where Nick Offerman was a treasure.
There were plenty of celebrities who didn’t march, either because the issues didn’t matter to them, or they had other responsibilities that day, or because they were actively hostile to the cause. One of them, posting on Twitter, was Piers Morgan, who thought he was being clever when he said he was organizing a Men’s March.
As a result of people actually reading what Morgan wrote and taking him at his word, there were reactions. One was that Ewan McGregor canceled an interview on Morgan’s show to promote his new movie. In a snit, Morgan shot back, “Sorry that Ewan McGregor’s not here. He couldn’t bear the thought of being on the sofa with me because he doesn’t agree with me about the women’s march. I have to agree with what an actor thinks about a particular issue because they’re actors. And as we know actors’ views are more important than anybody else’s.”
To me, McGregor decided he didn’t want to waste his time talking to someone whose views he found to be disgusting. That’s his right. I don’t think McGregor was saying his views are “more important than anybody else’s.” I think he decided that life was too short.
(However, if I was the publicist for T2 Trainspotting 2, I might have been less sanguine.)
Celebrities are frequently American citizens, and, as such, have the same right to free speech as the rest of us. And, like the rest of us, when they use this right, they sometimes reveal themselves to be educated and insightful, and other times they reveal themselves to be superficial and ignorant. Their opinions are no more or less important than anyone else’s.
Over the years, I’ve been at events (usually fundraisers for charities or politicians) where various celebrities have been in attendance. Sometimes they shut themselves off in a VIP area. Sometimes they mingle with the crowd. Sometimes they let you take selfies with them, and sometimes they even talk to you. In that, they are similar to the other people in attendance, except with bodyguards.
Our own little world of comics is part of this now, since, apparently, our new president is a Christopher Nolan fan. As many pointed out, Trump lifted some of his inaugural address from The Dark Knight Rises, which is even more amazing when one considers that the character he swiped from was Bane, the villain. Bane creators Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan were interviewed by several media outlets, and, in the process, described themselves as Trump supporters.
Good for them. I disagree, of course, but I was delighted that they presented their opinions in a sane, non-hysterical manner.
I must say, that, as a pacifist, I find the only thing more attractive than punching Nazis in the face would be punching Nazi vampires in the face. And I think that, for me, both are about as likely to happen.
Legendary comics artist Fred Fredericks died this week.
After attending New York’s School of Visual Arts in the period following the Korean War, Fredericks started drawing historical comics that attracted the attention of comic book editors. Before long, Fred was a regular at Western Publishing (Dell, Gold Key), where he drew such titles as The Twilight Zone, The Munsters, Mighty Mouse, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mister Ed, Nancy, and Snuffy Smith. After working on several short-lived Civil War newspaper strips, Fredericks created the comics feature Rebel for Scholastic Scope, which ran for 30 years.
In 1965, the year following the start of Rebel, Fred was selected by writer / playwright Lee Falk to take over the art chores on his daily and Sunday Mandrake The Magician newspaper strip. Fred drew Mandrake until the Sundays ended in 2002, but he continued drawing the daily feature until his retirement in 2013. Fredericks took over the writing chores when Falk died in 1999; he already had been lettering the strip. Overall, his stint on Mandrake ran nearly a half-century.
For 10 years Fred also inked George Olesen’s pencils on Lee Falk’s The Phantom Sundays, until Graham Nolan took over following Olesen’s retirement.
Fredericks returned to comic books in 1987, inking Alex Saviuk’s pencils on Marvel’s adaptation of the animated series Defenders of the Earth – a show that featured Mandrake, The Phantom and Flash Gordon. He went on to work on such Marvel titles as Punisher War Journal, Daredevil, Quasar, G.I. Joe, and Nth Man: the Ultimate Ninja. Around this time Fred also did a fair amount of work for DC Comics, including Who’s Who, Secret Origins, Showcase, and Black Lightning.
After his retirement in 2013, King Features put Mandrake The Magician into reruns, reprinting Fred Frederick’s work.
A personal note.
Around the time the Sunday Mandrake was coming to an end, I received a phone call from Lee Falk asking me if I knew where Fred might land some assignments. I gave him a few ideas, and later told Fred of a few more. As a “reward”, Fred sent me a package of original Mandrake art. Quite frankly, his entertaining me for decades was more than enough, but I was greatly moved by his generosity.
A man of great kindness and skill, Fred Fredericks played an important role in the world of post-WWII American comics, both strips and books. He kept Mandrake The Magician alive when all but a small handful of adventure strips fell by the wayside. Fred Fredericks will be missed by his great many fans worldwide.
(Photo above, left to right: Lee Falk, Lothar, Mandrake, Fred Fredericks)
This September the good folks at Hermes Press will be publishing a new Phantom comic that will return the Ghost Who Walks to his original greatness. Written by Peter David and drawn by Sal Velutto, this book will be awesome heroic fun!
They’ve asked me to do a variant cover for the first issue and here it is. Jesus Aburto has done an awesome job on the colors. EXACTLY how I imagined it!